Monday, April 4, 2016

A Brief History of the California Golden Seals

On this date in 1976, the California Golden Seals defeated the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 in the final game in franchise history.

The ever name changing California Seals were founded as part of the great NHL expansion of 1967-68. The San Francisco / Oakland area was not considered a particularly lucrative market for hockey, but the terms of a new television agreement with CBS called for two of the six new expansion teams to be located in California, with the other club being the Kings in Los Angeles.

The Seals were supposed to have been located in San Francisco, but the planned arena was never built, and instead, the team was based across the bay in Oakland. The club was originally called the California Seals to appeal to fans in San Francisco and address complaints from other NHL teams that Oakland was not a major league city, as it's only other professional sports team at the time was the Oakland Raiders of the inferior American Football League.

Bobby Baun Seals photo BobbyBaunSeals.jpg
Team captain Bobby Baun wearing their first "C" logo jersey
from the club's original name of "California Seals"

California Seals 1967-68 crest photo California Seals 1967-68 crest.jpg
A rare, original California Seals "C" crest from their first set of jerseys
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions
On November 6, 1967, after the franchise was just a mere dozen games old, owner Barry Van Gerbig announced that the team's name was being changed to the Oakland Seals!

Today's first featured jersey is a 1967-68 Oakland Seals Charlie Hodge jersey. As seen above, the California Seals began play with a "C" logo, but removed those crests and replaced them with an "O" logo following their early season name change. At the same time as the change from the original C logo to the O logo, the club also added a top layer of white to their original blue numbers outlined in white due to complaints that the blue numbers were too hard to read against the green background. This style jersey was worn for two seasons until a one year only style with wider striping and white shoulders.

Oakland Seals 1967-68 B R jersey photo Oakland Seals 1967-68 F R jersey.jpg
Oakland Seals 1967-68 B R jersey photo Oakland Seals 1967-68 B R jersey.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's first bonus jersey is a 1967-68 California Golden Seals Alain Charon jersey. This home white jersey started from the beginning with three color numbers on the back and sleeves, unlike the green jerseys' original two color numbers.

These jerseys were also converted from the original "C" logos to the modified "O" logos following the unsettled club's early name change.

Oakland Seals 1967-68 H F jersey photo Oakland Seals 1967-68 H F jersey.jpg
Oakland Seals 1967-68 H F jersey photo Oakland Seals 1967-68 H B jersey.jpg

Poor attendance led to threats by Van Gerbig to move the club and a poor record on the ice led to only seven of the original 20 players remaining on the team for it's second season.

1968-69 California Seals team photo 1968-69CaliforniaSealsteam.jpg
The 1968-69 Oakland Seals with a heavily revamped
roster wearing "O" logo sweaters

While the Seals finished with records below .500, they would qualify for the playoffs in each of the next two seasons, 1968-69 and 1969-70, the only times the club see postseason action in their nine seasons. In 1969 the Seals took the Kings to a full seven games before losing and in 1970 they were swept in four straight by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Oakland Seals 1969-70 photo Oakland Seals 1969-70.jpg
Wayne Muloin defends in front of goalie Charlie Hodge during the
1969-70 season in their one year only white shouldered jersey style

Van Gerbig sold the team to a group called Trans National Communications in time for the 1969-70 season, but when the group filed for bankruptcy, ownership reverted to Van Gerbig, who put the club up for sale again.

Today's second featured jersey is a 1969-70 Oakland Seals Barry Boughner jersey. This jersey was a one year only style worn for just the 1969-70 season before Van Gerbig found a new buyer for the franchise who brought his own unique sense of fashion.

Oakland Seals 1969-70 jersey photo Oakland Seals 
1969-70 jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions
The Oakland Seals were then purchased by Charlie O. Finley, owner of the Oakland Athletics baseball club, who had moved to the bay area in 1968. Never one to sit still, Finley renamed the team the California Golden Seals for the 1970-71 season and changed the team's green and blue colors to green and gold, matching those worn by his baseball club, as well as having the team wear flashy white skates!

The California Golden Seals in their notorious white skates

Today's third featured jersey is a 1970-71 California Golden Seals Doug Roberts jersey in the club's new green and gold colors, paired with white skates, to repeat owner Charlie O. Finley's world champion Oakland Athletics colors.

These jerseys would be worn for three seasons with a lace up collar and for a fourth with a new v-neck collar.
 California Seals Golden 1971-72 jersey photo California Seals Golden 1971-72 H F jersey.jpg
California Seals Golden 1971-72 jersey photo California Seals Golden 1971-72 H B jersey.jpg

Unfortunately the the Golden Seals finished dead last in the NHL during their first season under Finley's ownership with just 45 points from 78 games. Even worse, their first overall pick in the 1971 NHL Entry Draft had already been traded to the Montreal Canadiens for the Canadiens' first round pick in 1970, left winger Ernie Hicke and the always needed cash. The player chosen by the Golden Seals with the 10th overall pick in the first round they received from Montreal turned out to be one Chris Oddleifson (95 career goals and 286 points), who they assigned to the minors before trading him to the Boston Bruins, never having played a game for the Golden Seals. Meanwhile, the Canadiens used the first overall draft choice obtained from the Golden Seals to select none other than future Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur, who went on to score 560 goal and 1,353 points and win 5 Stanley Cups in his 17 seasons.

Bonus jersey: Today's second bonus jersey is a 1971-72 California Golden Seals Joey Johnston jersey. This road green version was the first Seals jersey to feature names on the back and was worn during the period of Finley's ownership. The choice of white for the names on the back was a simple and effective way to give the jerseys increased contrast and the use of one color sleeve numbers is a throwback to simpler times.

California Seals Golden 1971-72 R B jersey photo California Seals Golden 1971-72 R F jersey.jpg
California Seals Golden 1971-72 R B jersey photo California Seals Golden 1971-72 R B jersey.jpg

The team improved by 15 points the following season, but suffered from the emergence of the World Hockey Association, as the frugal Finley refused to match the WHA's contract offers to his players resulting in five of the team's top ten scorers leaving for the rival league and the Golden Seals once again sank to the bottom of the standings with 48 points in 1972-73 and followed that up with just 36 points in 1973-74.

Matters were made worse, if that's even possible, by a divisional restructuring which somehow found the Golden Seals placed in the newly created Adams Division with the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs, in an apparent effort by the league to kill off the franchise, as each of the other clubs were a minimum of 2,300 miles to the east! This meant any road games within their division began at 4 in the afternoon Pacific Time while most of their fanbase was theoretically still at work, unable to tune in to the radio or watch on TV.

Having grown tired of owning the hockey team, especially in direct comparison to his three-time world champion Athletics baseball team, Finley tried unsuccessfully to sell the Golden Seals, which was eventually eventually taken over by the NHL.

Melvin Swig then purchased the team in 1975 with plans to have the team play in a new arena in San Francisco. Those plans never came to pass following the election of a new mayor who was opposed to the plan, so after nine money-losing seasons, low attendance and few victories, minority owners George and Gordon Gund convinced Swig to relocate the team to their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, making the club the first NHL team to relocate since 1934 and bringing to and end the Golden Seals ordeal in California, where the team had more names than playoff appearances.

Politically, Swig and the Gunds were relying on Swig's political connections with San Francisco Mayor Joseph L. Alioto to get a new hockey arena built downtown. "Alioto was very helpful, " Gund remembered. "He had hoped to put the team where the Moscone Center is now. It was very close to public transportation."

Regrettably for the Seals, Swig's timing was off. Alioto was leaving office and Swig supported the wrong man in the 1975 election. When George Moscone took office, the new arena died. "The new mayor put the building on hold." Len Shapiro said. "He ran an investigation into the report and then said the survey had to be resurveyed , so basically, it went nowhere. Then there were plans to remodel the Cow Palace but that never happened either." Once those two plans fell through, the Seals were finished in the Bay Area.

"After the new arena in San Francisco fell through, the league gave us the go-ahead to move the team." Gund remembered. "We looked at a lot of other places. We looked at Denver and Seattle-Tacoma. We ended up picking Cleveland because hockey was very popular there."

Rumors that the Seals would leave the Bay Area were almost as old as the team itself. The owners were quietly but aggressively looking over other locations. The NHL had planned expansion franchises for both Seattle and Denver, which were supposed to begin play in 1976-77. The new entires, though, were experiencing problems so moving the Seals to those cities was still a possibility.

Shapiro recalled when he first got an inkling the team might be leaving. "On February 1, 1976, I realized something might be up. I was in the office with Loretta Marcus [the team's secretary] and nobody else was there. I had no idea where anybody was. I looked at Munson Campbell's schedule and it said he was booked at the Cleveland Hilton. Then I knew something must be up."

George and Gordon Gund owned the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, where the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers played. It was halfway between Akron and Cleveland, a location that would cause the franchise more problems in the future. In typical Seals fashion, even it's exit was not smooth. The club participated in the July 1976 entry draft as the Seals and even started selling tickets for the upcoming season in Oakland.

At the 1976 entry draft, the Seals made history by becoming the first NHL team to use its frist-round draft pick on a European player by drafting Swedish defenseman Bjorn Johansson. The team didn't make it's intention to move officially known until August 26, 1976. It was announced that the team would move to Cleveland and take the name of the AHL franchise that played there for so many years, the Barons. Because of the late move, the Barons had a mere six weeks to sell tickets in their new home. Once again, the franchise started its new life behind the proverbial eight ball.

Under the Gunds ownership, the Barons played in Ohio for two seasons, merged with the Minnesota North Stars, who were then sold to another group while the Gunds received an NHL expansion franchise, the San Jose Sharks, at the south end of San Francisco Bay, 40 miles from where it all started.

Today's fourth featured jersey is a 1974-75 California Golden Seals Marv Edwards jersey. After the departure of owner Charlie O. Finley, the Golden Seals colors were changed from his signature green and gold to the even less intimidating pastel shades of "Pacific Blue" (teal) and "California Gold" (yellow), quite probably the worst colors for an NHL team in league history, which were about as intimidating as Easter eggs. The change also gave the team more total color schemes than playoff appearances as well.

Not even the addition of goaltender Gary Simmons' black goalie mask with it's frightening green cobra was enough to offset the "only in California" colors of the Golden Seals final jersey set.


Aside from the unusual color scheme of the last incarnation of Golden Seals jerseys, another odd characteristic of this set was the decidedly "football jersey" style vertical stripes where the arms meet the body of the jersey, something that had never appeared on an NHL jersey before or since.

California Golden Seals Jersey photo GoldenSealsfront-1.jpg
 California Golden Seals Jersey photo GoldenSealsback-1.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's third bonus jersey is a 1974-75 California Golden Seals Joey Johnston jersey. This home white version was used for the final two seasons of the Golden Seals with it's unique arm stripes at the shoulders and pastel color scheme.

California Seals Golden 1974-75 H F jersey photo California Seals Golden 1974-75 H F jersey.jpg
California Seals Golden 1974-75 H F jersey photo California Seals Golden 1974-75 H B jersey.jpg

Here are some fantastic old videos of the Seals in action. Check out those rinkside seats for $5.50 and playoff tickets for $12. Sign us up!

We don't care how hard you punch, there's just no dignity in wearing those teal jerseys.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome and encourage genuine comments and corrections from our readers. Please no spam. It will not be approved and never seen.


hit counter for blogger